Staff editorial: Mobilizing to change the culture around sexual assault

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Tuesday’s informational forum with Dean of Students Jim Hoppe on Macalester’s current sexual assault policy hinted at a way forward on a highly contentious issue. Students in the group Feminists in Action – Standing Together Against Rape and Sexual Assault (FIA-STARSA), which organized the event, deserve kudos for their work.At the meeting, some students described a frightening reality – a campus on which people who commit sexual assault can often literally laugh off the non-consequences. These concerns cannot be easily dismissed. Nor, for that matter, can the critiques of a policy structure which places a significant burden on victims of sexual assault and lumps them in with other parties raising a grievance.

Under current policy, students, faculty and staff who believe they have experienced sexual assault by another Macalester community member report the incident to the college Harassment Committee. Under standard Harassment Committee operating procedures, mediation both precedes and is strongly preferred to any kind of investigation in most cases.

It is true that sexual assault is a form of harassment. Sexualized violence surely takes place in forms other than sexual assault, such as verbal harassment. To say otherwise would be absurd. But equally absurd is the flattening of rape and sexual assault as merely another form of harassment. Sexual assault is not merely another misunderstanding to be addressed by mediation and the reduction of antagonisms.

Hoppe emphasized his dismay at the perception that the college is concerned more with its own legal, financial and media standing than with the well-being of students who experience – or live with the fear of – rape and sexual assault.

Frankly, this forum and the ongoing appeals from FIA-STARSA presents him and other administrators with an opportunity to address that perception.

Hoppe has been touting the recent reconfiguration of the Student Affairs web site and the circulation of colorful posters as efforts to raise awareness of the current sexual assault policy.

These efforts are laudable, but they offer little in the way of prevention, much less deterrence. In the short term, even making emergency information permanently available could do a great deal. This sort of information for victims – which has the simultaneous effect of warning potential aggressors – is posted in bathroom stalls across countless other college campuses. It’s time Macalester followed suit.

In the long term, however, it’s vital that whether through changes in policy or practice or both, the culture of bureaucracy and nonchalance be replaced by a culture of deterrence and support for people who are victimized. We applaud FIA-STARSA’s call for gravity and urgency in recognizing and mobilizing for such a change in culture.

The opinions expressed above are those of The Mac Weekly, as determined by the staff. The perspectives are not representative of Macalester College.